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July 17, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Translation: Alberto Blanco

Some words about translation. Let’s look at Alberto Blanco (1951, Mexico City), a poem from his first book, Giros de Faros, The Lighthouse Spins, published in 1979 and characterized, on its thirry-year anniversary in 2009, “a cornerstone of contemporary Mexican poetry.”

Giros is highly structured, a mandala of echoing stanzas. Tiro al blanco is from a section titled Otro mar más blanco, Another Whiter Sea, composed of twelve poems, each composed of three quatrains. There are greener, bluer, blacker seas elsewhere. Though the word blanco in the poem’s title has to recall the Whiter of the section head, a tiro al blanco is a shot to the target, a bull’s eye. The English loses the color but gains the beast.

The poem reminds me of Alberto Blanco’s well-known collages, in which he cuts and pastes nineteenth-century prints into surreal, serene vistas.

The Spanish verses are endecasílabos, 11-syllable lines. To reproduce that line slavishly in English one would have to pad, always an option. I chose not to. There’s some light rhyme in the Spanish: o-o-o-a, o-a-o-a, a-a-o-e… I can’t get this para out of itals… It’s harder to find a word in Spanish which doesn’t end in -o or -a than not. Can you hear the understated rhyme in the English?

Alberto Blanco would certainly be ranked among the leading poets of a tendency to a sparer, purer verse, which is counterposed, Latin America-wide, to the ornate, fluvial rhythms of the neo-barrocos who derive from Góngora and Lezama Lima through Nestor Perlongher. While this cultural crevice is roughly analogous to our own civil war between Quietude and White Noise, the neat thing about not being from there is that as a translator and visiting poet I don’t have to choose sides.

I did this translation awhile ago, and now I’m not sure about “they are ships” … sounds awk. ¿Qué creen ustedes?


El cielo y el mar, siendo paralelos,
convergen en un punto misterioso
cuando muestran que el mundo es un arquero
atento al vuelo de su voluntad.

Rigor del mar, artífices del vidrio
que reflejan al barco en la turquesa,
como estrella fugaz en cada puerto,
rueda de la fortuna, pasajera…

Viejos juegos mecánicos que giran
al ritmo de la oferta y la demanda:
son buques fatigados por el viento
que llora con la fuerza de sus hélices.


The sky and sea, being parallel,
converge at a mysterious point
when they show the world’s an archer
alert to the flight of its will.

Rigor of the sea, glass artifice
reflecting the boat in turquoise,
like a brief star in every port,
wheel of fortune, transient…

Old mechanical toys that turn
to the rhythm of supply and demand:
they are ships worn out by the wind
that weeps with the force of its helices.



Leave a Comment
  1. Joseph Hutchison / Jul 20 2010 9:09 am

    I love Blanco’s work and your excellent efforts to bring it across into English. As for “they are ships”—maybe “they are” is unnecessary? But don’t ask me. I translate just for fun and do a fairly anemic job of it….

  2. C.M. Mayo / Jul 25 2010 10:57 pm

    Wonderful to see this! I’m a big fan of Blanco’s poetry.

  3. alan / Nov 2 2012 7:41 am



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